The International Livestock Research Institute last month released a research showing high levels of aflatoxin in Kenyan foods such as meat, milk and maize.
The ILRI study established that Kenya had aflatoxin levels of between 0.02 parts per billion (ppb) to 9661 ppb with positive samples ranging from 75-100 per cent.
The study revealed that 72 per cent of milk sampled from dairy farmers across the country had aflatoxins. In this, 84 per cent of the milk came from large and medium scale farmers. 99 per cent of pasteurized milk in the market had aflatoxins which exceeded the Food and Agriculture Organization’s limit of 50 parts per trillion.
The survey further showed that 25-100 per cent of feed in the farms exceeded required five ppb while 87-100 per cent of feeds bought from retailers exceeded the limit. 20-100 per cent of feeds from manufacturers were above the required 5 ppb.
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Aflatoxin is a toxin produced by a fungus that grows on certain crops, such as maize and groundnuts. Consumption of high levels of aflatoxin can be fatal, and chronic exposure has been linked to liver cancer, suppressed immune response, and child stunting. Maize is a staple food in Kenya and is a major source of aflatoxin exposure in the country.
In 2004 for instance 125 Kenyans died after consuming aflatoxin-infested food. In 2016, agricultural experts and the Kenya Bureau of Standards warned of presence of the deadly toxin in food such as maize flour and milk sold in supermarkets across the country.
The number of people dying from cancer thus has doubled over the last five years from 20,000 to 40,000 according to the Kenya Network of Cancer Organisations.
Last year, cancer was the third leading cause of major deaths in the country behind malaria and pneumonia accounting for 16,953 deaths according to the Economic Survey 2018.
Farmers can control aflatoxin in maize by applying a biological control of aflatoxins, aflasafe.
Aflasafe is sold at between Sh1,240 and Sh2,070 for every 10kg pack in certified agro-vets depending on the county. A 2.5kg pack is also available for small holder farmers.
Aflasafe, which is a research product from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), prevents aflatoxin causing fungi from accessing the maize cobs. The protection starts from the field up to the store.
Application ahead of maize flowering ensures that friendly fungi are deposited in the farm to occupy and protect the maize cobs.